Katherine Cullen’s childhood was strongly shaped by her struggles with dyslexia; it’s also what led her to comedy.
In the nineties, when Katherine was in elementary school, there was far less support available for neurodiverse learners than there is today. What that lack of support looked like, for both Katherine and her teachers, was a whole lot of frustration: frustration with not being able to complete that task at hand, and frustration of not being able to learn the same way as her peers. “I was constantly not able to meet the expectations…and not able to explain why. I was met with a lot of skepticism,” she tells me, “I was called stupid a lot.”
In high school, Katherine joined an improv team, which opened up opportunities to express herself. “I developed my sense of humour as a means to help me get by. I gravitated towards comedy, and that really felt like it became part of my identity and helped me channel a lot of the frustrations,” says Katherine. “Making people laugh, and making myself laugh, and keeping things light was a really great way of coping. It gave me confidence and made me feel like I was good at something—finally!” she adds, with a chuckle.
Katherine first began writing Stupidhead ten years ago, and it was the first time she really confronted this part of her life. When it premiered at Theatre Passe Muraille in 2017, it was an instant audience hit that also won over critics. The Globe and Mail described it as “lovable, sincere… the audacious overcoming of shame and limitations,” and NOW gave it a glowing NNNN review.
Since the first draft, Stupidhead has had many lives. She first wrote it as a play, but felt it was too depressing. A musical allowed for both high impact, but also levity. With songs like “Dobermans and Nutella”, “Is This Where the Puppet People Get Picked Up” and “What If I Never Find My Way”, Stupidhead will have you roaring in laughter, but also pull at your heartstrings and inspire empathy and understanding.
“I wanted to talk about the kind of experiences that I had with learning disabilities going through the school system…and I had never really shared these stories before,” says Katherine. “I know for kids, especially, it can feel really lonely and really isolating.” The humour is whip-smart and self deprecating; Stupidhead is as much about friendship as it is about being made to feel stupid.
For these precarious times, the Dora-nominated show has been reimagined by Katherine and co-creator/co-star Britta Johnson. Canadians all over can experience Stupidhead as an audio performance. “We’re modelling this version on your favourite radio variety shows from the times of yore,” explains Katherine. If you’re in Toronto, you can also book a porch or yard performance ($400), and invite the whole block to enjoy!
There is some light swearing, but we think this show is well suited for anyone 12+, and will undoubtedly spark conversations about the myriad of ways that people learn, tough moments in school, and the enduring friendships that help pull you through.
Live digital radio performances are running from now until July 16. “At Your Place” performances are booking between July 20 – August 1st. To arrange, visit www.Outsidethemarch.ca.